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Kimmel Center Pipe Organ Debut

Well folks, it's been a long time a-comin;, but today was the day. I've been reluctant (downright superstitious, even) to mention it publicly, but the deals all finally worked out and a dream gig happened for us today.

Billed as the nations largest concert pipe organ, the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ came online this week in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts - - here in Philadelphia. Today was the Organ Marathon (5 hrs and 5 artists performed on this wonderful new instrument,) and we recorded it all for upcoming NPR and other broadcasts, archives, etc.

I had the honor and pleasure of recording Marvin Mills, Alan Morrison, Cameron Carpenter, Diane Belcher and Gordon Turk, eacn in 1hr performances all throughout this afternoon (LONG day!) and we're all pretty blown away with what we heard and saw. The instrument appears to be a huge hit, a wonderful success.

In addition to the evening Philadelphia Orchestra concerts (which are being recorded separately by Ondine Records), we're also recording a concert on Sunday (today) May 14th with the Philadelphia Singers, Mannes College of Music and Michael Stairs (organ) performing a work by DAvid Raksin and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis.

I'm still in the middle of all this, and I'm still wrapping my head around it all; it's pretty amazing stuff. As soon as I figure out how to post pics here, I'll try to put some examples up. (You can just go to the Kimmel Center website for now, and read all about the organ and its construction by Lyn Dobson, the organ builder.)

We're using a variety of mics; mostly DPA's, Scheops and even a pair of 4060's on the main chest. (Caps removed, of course!) Tracking is through Sequoia at 24/96, and we're planning on stereo and 5.1 versions of it all, depending on where it ends up. Of course, there will be a lot more involved with the Phila Singers and the full Mannes College of Music orchestra, with four soloists out in front as well.

I'll post the broadcast dates and info when that's decided, too. Some will be local but simulcast on the web., and other stuff will be on NPR. I suspect there may also be a deal with PipeDreams, too; I met Michael Barone today as well, who co-hosted the concerts.

Stay tuned..


JoeH Mon, 05/15/2006 - 11:15
hehehe....I'm not listing EVERYTHING just yet David, but you did have me going for a moment there..... :twisted:

Plush, the bottom is indeed Phat. That's gotta be the understatment of the year. (Although it's NOT overbearing as much as it's omni-present) It's tough to describe the overall experience, and very difficult to attempt to render it into just a stereo mix, contrasted with what I heard/felt all through the weekend. Although the point of the recording was archival and for radio-only broadcast, we tracked at 24/96 and used rear/surround mics as well, planning for the future, etc. (Thankfully, I'm using a sub for mixing all this!)

I've been seeing the thing being put together in stages since the building opened in 2001; the facade pipes went in first, and they've been there ever since. Each summer, they'd do more as time and schedule permitted and as you can imagine, they were working on it right up until the debut. Hell, they worked on it before, during and after, and some of the solo artists were in there in the middle of the night practicing for the Marathon Debut, with techs standing by, tweaking as they went along. And of course, it's still a work in progress. Dobson has about five or six techs in attendance, onsite, at least during these breakin/shakedown concerts. At one point in Cameron Carpenters performance, they had to take a 10 minute pause to "un-stick" a piston setting that had gotten stuck and cicphering.

In the last few weeks as we walk through the building to other events, concerts, etc., we've been hearing it in testing phases, brief bursts of sound, etc. (imagine the acoustic equivalent of someone designing and building a studio - test tones, pink noises, drilling, adjusting, etc.)

But the bass is almost indescribable. It truly envelopes the listener, even backstage in the wings. (You KNOW when it's on and being played.) There is no ONE place to hear this; the beauty of it is how many different ways the sound can be heard and felt throughout the hall. I can tell you it's different every where you move. (Not better or worse, just different.)

Verizon Hall in the Kimmel Center is a modern, steel and poured concrete structure, and there are numereous hallways, walkways, passages, etc. in and out of the main performance space. (Honestly, there are places where you feel you're on some kind of movie set for a futuristic ship. The hallways that pass through the large, movable acoustic panels, for example, have zones that are more like "wells" That go from the top of the building down to the basement, with subdued lighting (blue, mostly) for concerts. Just getting in and out of the main hall is an adventure in and of itself. The building is five years old now, but it's still the star attraction in the Arts here in town.

I've heard and recorded organs in all kinds of churches and spaces before, but this one is unique; it's an entity on its own; not part of any religious tie-in, and (hopefully) maintained and cared-for as an ongoing, living, breathing instrument that will be as impressive as a solo feature or part of an orchestra. It's really quite a different experience hearing an instrument like this is a concert hall instead of a cathedral. There is no place to hide, no overly reverbertant wash or mud. (The organists all loved it, and Michael Stairs said the experience is like driving a new Rolls Royce.)

I have to say they really hit a home run with this thing; it sounds gorgeous anywhere you sit in the house. As majestic and grand as the Philadelphia Orchestra sounded in the debut, the organ only added to that immense sound, almost bathing everything in an additional halo of sound, if you will. As big as the PO sound already is, it was as if some giant had come along, and breathed a whole new dimension of sound around it all; the basses suddenly expanded down and out, and the strings were lusher, fuller with this other-world expansion of tone.

Sorry if I'm getting soppy or overwrought here, it's just that the thing really DOES sound that good. And its only the debut. I can only imagine how things will evolve. (FYI: Ondine has plans to release the debut Philadelphia Orchestra performances from May 11-13 on CD and SACD at some point, as well. They tracked everything with Pyramix.)

Right now, I've got an amazing Missa Solemnis to try to mix for broadcast next week. 8-)